Air Chief Marshal Sir Lewis Hodges

Bomber pilot, escaped prisoner of war and SOE commander with a distinguished peacetime career


Lewis Macdonald Hodges, airforce officer: born Richmond, Surrey 1 March 1918; DFC 1942, bar 1943; DSO 1944, bar 1945; CBE 1958; Assistant Commandant, RAF College, Cranwell 1959-61; AO i/c Admin, Middle East Command, Aden 1961-63; CB 1963, KCB 1968; Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Ops) 1965-68; AOC-in-C, Air Support Command 1968-70; Air Member for Personnel, Ministry of Defence 1970-73; Deputy C-in-C Allied Forces Central Europe 1973-76; ADC to the Queen 1973-76; Chairman, RAF Benevolent Fund Education Committee 1979-86; President, RAF Escaping Society 1979-2000; President, Royal Air Forces Association 1981-84; married 1950 Elisabeth Blackett (two sons); died 4 January 2007.

With the death of Sir Lewis Hodges the Royal Air Force loses not only one of its finest senior officers but a member of that band of intrepid pilots who undertook cloak-and-dagger operations during the Second World War.

Born in Richmond, Surrey, in 1918 and educated at St Paul's School and Cranwell, "Bob" Hodges flew Hampden bombers with 76 and 49 Squadrons from December 1938 until September 1940, when his aircraft crashed in France returning from a raid on Stettin. He was captured by the gendarmerie after reaching the Pyrenees, was moved to Marseilles, tried to get away by ship, was imprisoned and placed on parole pending trial, escaped via Perpignan to Spain, was again imprisoned, and eventually reached home in June 1941.

Six months after rejoining 49 Squadron, he was selected for operations in support of the Special Operations Executive and joined 161 Squadron at Tempsford as a flight commander, dropping agents and supplies from Halifax bombers. Later, as the squadron CO, he also flew Hudsons and Lysanders on pick-up missions; a passenger on one of these was the future President of France Vincent Auriol, who in 1950 arranged for his appointment to the Légion d'honneur.

In 1944 Hodges, now holding two DFCs and the DSO in recognition of his gallantry, efficiency and personal example, attended the Staff College and served on Sir Arthur Harris's operations staff at Bomber Command before returning to the front line, this time in the Far East. Here he took over 357 Squadron based near Calcutta, flying Liberators on clandestine operations over Japanese occupied territories, and winning a bar to his DSO.

At the end of his action-packed war - aged only 27 - his experience was put to good use for three years on the Directing Staff, first at Haifa and then at the Joint Services Staff College. There followed four years in the Air Ministry as Staff Officer to the Deputy Chief of Air Staff and in the Directorate of Plans before he returned to flying in 1952.

After a year at the RAF Flying College he returned to Bomber Command, where he was chosen to command the RAF team of three Canberras entered for the London to New Zealand Air Race in October 1953. He himself flew via Shaibah, Negombo and Perth, where he landed well in the lead - only to be delayed by an engine fault. The race was won by Flight Lieutenant Roland Burton, a member of his team.

For the next five years he served with the V-bomber force, first as Chief Instructor at the newly established Operational Training Unit at Gaydon, where the crews who would man the force were learning their new role on the Vickers Valiant. Then, in 1956, he took command of one of the RAF's largest stations, Marham, whose Canberra squadrons were being reequipped with the Valiant, and by the time he departed in 1959 he had made a major contribution to the build-up of the V-Force.

There followed two enjoyable years as Assistant Commandant at Cranwell, his Alma Mater, and his first post-war tour overseas when he went to Headquarters British Forces Aden Peninsula as Air Officer Administration. He was there during the successful emergency operation to reinforce Kuwait in face of Iraqi threats in 1961.

At the end of 1963 he took over as Air Executive to the Nuclear Deputy at Shape, a post which required all his staff and diplomatic skills, and two years later returned to the Air Ministry as Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Operations). He was in for a busy time, with the closing stages of Indonesian confrontation and the complexities of the withdrawal from Aden requiring almost constant attention.

Then in 1968 he was appointed Commander-in Chief of Air Support Command, whose transport aircraft were still operating worldwide but preparing for the cutbacks that would ensue from the withdrawal from East of Suez. It was other consequences of that withdrawal that dominated his work in his next post, that of Air Member for Personnel which he took over in November 1970. Here he had to handle many of the complexities of the RAF's reorganisation and reductions in manpower, and it may have been a relief when in 1973 he moved back to Nato for his final appointment, that of Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Allied Air Forces Central Europe.

Bob Hodges retired in 1976 but remained a busy man. Some of his time was spent as a director of Pilkington Brothers and a governor of Bupa, but he remained committed to many of his RAF connections, not least of them the RAF Benevolent Fund and its educational work. He presided for several years over the RAF Association: he also served as President of the RAF Club, whose fortunes he himself had done much to revive in the 1960s.

But perhaps nothing meant more to him than the many ties that stemmed from his wartime activities. He became the father figure in the RAF Escaping Society and the Tempsford Reunions, and was on never ending call to represent the RAF at memorial events both at home and abroad, particularly in France.

Not surprisingly, he showed great interest in the RAF Historical Society and was a constant source of guidance and inspiration to all who were keen to preserve the record of the RAF's achievements. I and countless others will remember a kind and considerate man whom it was a privilege to know.

Henry Probert

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